DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson Unaware of Existing Law, Job Responsibilities

By Jon Feere on February 7, 2014

Speaking at the Wilson Center on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pushed amnesty for illegal immigrants, calling it "a matter of homeland security." He argued that "we should encourage these people to come out of the shadows of American society," apparently believing that an amnesty program is the only way to determine the identities of those living here illegally.

But existing law already requires the DHS secretary to demand that illegal aliens come forward and register their presence with the federal government under 8 U.S.C. § 1302, "Registration of Aliens". The law makes it "the duty of every alien" to register their presence in the United States if they remain here 30 days or longer. Failure to do so results in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to six months (8 U.S.C. § 1306a). The Justice Department's U.S. Attorney's Manual specifically applies this to illegal aliens: "If the alien is undocumented and has been in the United States for longer than 30 days, he or she has also violated 8 U.S.C. § 1306(a)."

The existing registration law could be applied to nearly all illegal aliens. The DHS estimate of 11.5 million illegal aliens (as of January 2011) are based the American Community Survey. The survey uses a two-month rule for calculating residency; those here for less than two months are not counted. This means that the 11.5 million illegal immigrants as estimated by DHS are by definition people who have been in the United States illegally for more than 60 days and running afoul of the 30-day registration requirement. There is simply no question that the illegal immigrant population is comprised almost entirely of people who are violating this registration statute.

Basic enforcement of existing immigration law is all that is necessary to acquire the identities of all illegal aliens. Instead of promoting amnesty, Secretary Johnson should enforce this statute. For him to wait on an unpopular and unlikely amnesty to become law when it is, as he puts it, a matter of national security to acquire the identities of illegal aliens, is irresponsible and dangerous.

In addition, it is well-established that amnesties do not benefit national security, but in fact harm it as a result of the government's incapacity to vet large numbers of people and prevent problematic individuals from becoming legal residents. Had immigration law simply been enforced in 1986, dangerous illegal aliens would have been removed from the country. Instead, the government granted amnesty to millions of people, including Mahmud Abouhalima, a ringleader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His new status allowed him to make several trips to Pakistan, where he received combat training. The amnesty is what made his training by al Qaeda possible. The attack killed six, injured more than 1,000, and created millions of dollars in damage.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens were able to fraudulently obtain amnesty through IRCA – leading one expert to call the 1986 amnesty "one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated against the United States Government" – it is clear that the United States did not have the capacity to safely administer an amnesty. Current amnesty proposals will likely suffer from similar deficiencies and many problematic individuals will likely be granted legal status.

Finally, Johnson also claimed in his speech that illegal aliens "are not going away". Yet his job responsibilities, as described on the DHS website, require him to "enforce and administer our immigration laws". He is quite obviously tasked with ensuring most illegal aliens are sent home. If it is the case that Mr. Johnson is announcing that he will not be fulfilling his jobs responsibilities, perhaps it is already time for him to resign.